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Thursday, May 9, 2013

On the Road to Writer Hell by Kerry Schafer

Last week I attended the Romantic Times Convention in Kansas City. I had a lot of fun, of course, but I also learned some valuable lessons. For example, writer creativity is not limited to books.
Writers are also good at parties and costumes, and like to socialize over drinks. And if the bar should happen to be too loud or too small, some industrious furniture relocation can create an entity called The Alternabar, a perfect place for hanging out late into the night.
I also learned that I am on the road to writer hell.
This little lesson was enjoined upon me by a panel called, appropriately, The Research Notebook From HellKeeping Your Series Organized. The panelists - Yasmine Galenorn, Lynda Hillburn, Shawntelle Madison, and Michelle M. Pillow – are all successful series writers who know of what they speak.
Truth is, I have heard about The Bible before. I have even made a few feeble attempts to collect information in one place and take a few notes, only to lose interest and wander off to do more interesting things, like write. The Bible didn't seem all that important until the middle of Book Two of my trilogy. Surely I was capable of remembering what I needed about character and plot, thought I. But the memory is a sneaky and treacherous thing, particularly once you've revised a book a few times, and what I had left out and put in began to blur. I was plagued by forgotten details about minor characters, slippery bits of world building, and the basic layout of building or towns, and was driven back to my previous manuscript and Word's "Find" command over and over again.
Technically, I'm not even writing a series. I'm only two books into a planned trilogy. But what if? What if my publisher came to me and said, "We want more! We want four or six or ten books set in the world of the Between."
What then?
This is what happened to Michelle Pillow, author of both theDragon Lords and the Lords of the Var series. She had only planned to write a couple of fantasy books, so a Bible didn't seem important. But then the Dragon Lords books took off and she realized that she was in trouble.
What do you do if you're already deep into a series and you haven't created your Bible as you go along? According to Michelle, you carve out time and you sit down and make yourself do it. "It's your punishment for being a bad writer," she says.
Everybody approaches the Bible a bit differently, but the general types of information include:
· Main Characters – appearance, personality traits, favorite expressions, etc.
· Secondary Characters – appearance, personality traits, favorite expressions, etc.
· Bestiary – keep track of descriptions and when or where creatures appear
· Subplots – particularly if you have subplots running through the entire series
· Main overall plot arc
· Magic systems
· Places – shops, businesses, streets
· Groups, organizations
It's important to update as you go along, making notes at the end of every chapter. And when a book is done, make sure everything is up to date, including a short summary of what happened. Yasmine Galenorn likes to write up a short history of each character's experience during the course of the book as well.
Depending on your personal preference and comfort zone, the Bible can be physical or electronic, or both. Use a binder with pockets and plastic sleeves and paper, or a computer program such as Scrivener, which lends itself to the process. Everybody on the panel strongly recommended some sort of back up system so you don't run the risk of losing all your hard work.
And as for me and my own sins – will I repent and convert to the series Bible? I'd like to say yes, but I know me. The ability to rationalize is strong, and it's so much easier to tell myself there is only one more book to go and no need for serious organization.
But then, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Kerry Schafer is a transplanted Canadian who currently lives in Eastern Washington with her family and an assortment of pets. A mental health counselor by day, she squeezes in writing wherever she can find the time. She writes urban fantasy and is the author of Between.


Stacey Brutger said...

Great post! I have a mini-bible for each book I write. I thought I was ahead of the curve. Then I realized how inadequate it was when I began book 2. I was like you. I thought I could remember everything. Yeah…not so much. lol

Diane Burton said...

Great post, Kerry. Yep, you need a "bible". I call my file "details" with basically the same things you included. I started it with the first book in my Switched series. Then I just added to it with each new book. Even so, I left out things and had to read the prior book to find what I needed. Talk about a time suck. Now I'm much more detailed to start with. I do this for all my books, even if they aren't part of a series. Can't depend on memory. LOL

Monica Stoner said...

I'm hoping Scrivener will help me with this bible

Asa Maria Bradley said...

I'm late to the party, Kerry, but thank you so much for taking one for the team and let us know what you learned from that. :-)

I started a spreadsheet while writing book 1 in my series, but still need to add stuff to it for creatures and mythology because I keep forgetting details.